Imgur, Now With 1.2B Daily Image Views, Adds New Gallery, Sorting, Reputation Tracking To Its Buzzy Image-Sharing Service

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Today, the popular image-sharing platform Imgur is announcing a significant change to its user experience in hopes of increasing the viral potential of its images. In what founder and CEO Alan Schaaf calls “the biggest update” made since launching the site in February 2009, Imgur’s users can now upload their photos directly to the community on Imgur.com via a new icon which will appear in the navigation bar on every page. The full release is scheduled for Monday.

Up to this point, users had to share their images on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, etc. in the hopes they would attract enough traction to appear on Imgur’s central image gallery — a realtime collection of the most popular images being circulated on the Interwebs. With today’s changes, images that are submitted directly to the central gallery have a better shot at going viral, as users can discover, vote on and share new images on the site itself — without ever leaving the comfort of their beloved image repository.

Users will also notice that the Gallery will now serve as the Imgur homepage and allows you to drag and drop directly to the page, use the upload toolbox or the new icon, which now follows you around Imgur. With the new Gallery comes the automatic creation of an album when adding multiple images — and the ability for upload images to appear immediately in the “New” section of the site’s Gallery, which will be appear as the hottest images sorted by time. There are also a host of new updates to image and content sorting, reputation and user moderation. Read a full explanation from Imgur here.

For those unfamiliar with Imgur, Alan Schaaf created the site as a junior at Ohio University because he was fed up with the limited user experience of popular image hosting sites (like ImageShack and Photobucket, for example). Imgur offered an alternative by removing the need for users to compress images, while making it easy to crop, resize and rotate to your heart’s content. As Schaaf said in his original post on Reddit, basically the idea was to make an image sharing site that “didn’t suck,” i.e. to remove the bloat and confusion from the process, offer anonymous uploads and unlimited bandwidth.

Over the next year, the site rocketed to popularity thanks to Reddit, Digg and others, mostly maintaining its core features and user experience. As the founder and CEO explained in a recent Reddit AMA, about six months after launch, Imgur began placing ads on the site to help monetize, and in early 2010, Schaaf and team added user accounts and pro accounts, eventually allowing users to sign in via Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Yahoo.

Today, many of us love taking breaks from crazy work days to peruse the wild and wacky images and gifs of Imgur, offering the best and weirdest the web has to offer. Even so (and in spite of its popularity with Reddit users), Imgur had been flying under the radar in the tech world, Schaaf said when Imgur won “Best Bootstrapped Startup of 2011″ at The Crunchies earlier this year.

So, the site somewhat quietly pulled in an increasingly ridiculous amount of traffic (like 2 billion page views per month and 3 million daily uniques in May), thanks to what Schaaf described as a necessary distinction between “photos” and “images.” Photos, he said, can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere else for that matter, but images — which describe the wider world of screenshots, memes, Photoshop mashups, etc. — are something different entirely. The founder wanted Imgur to become the go-to resource for the world’s many images.

While it’s still susceptible to the vagaries of Amazon EC2 hosting, Imgur and its team are still on a mission to make the site the easiest way to share images and give those beloved pics a change to go viral. The new icon and ability to share directly to the gallery aim to make it as easy as possibly to upload and share memes and such, sit back, and watch them go viral. And then monitor those hits, bandwidth, and so on.

To that point, the founder tells us that the site is now seeing 1.2 billion image views per day. Tapping into that directly without leaving the site does seem to have some powerful potential, even if it does mean that the community can now bypass Reddit — the very site that put Imgur where it is today. While some Redditors may balk at that, all in all, any update that makes the user experience more frictionless likely wins out in the end. Be the better Twitpic/Yfrog and don’t let Reddit kill your traffic, right?

Considering they live in the image cloud, readers may also be interested in Imgur’s take on what makes a viral image. Typically, the founders said, the most viral images have a “universal appeal,” often manifesting in the form of funny images with witty captions. No surprise there. Or here: The founders also noted that including a cat somewhere in the image “never hurts, either.”

Meow.

More about Imgur’s new features here.